Multiple Senate lawmakers emerged fuming from a nearly two-hour closed-door briefing with the globe’s top nuclear watchdog on Wednesday, frustrated by what they perceived as unnecessary stonewalling.
The Foreign Relations Committee briefing answered few questions about the secret “side deals” attached to the nuclear agreement with Iran, many said.
Instead, the meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano left many Republicans feeling more frustrated than before.
“I would say most members left here with greater concerns about the inspections regime than they came in with,” Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob CorkerRobert (Bob) Phillips CorkerCheney set to be face of anti-Trump GOP How leaving Afghanistan cancels our post-9/11 use of force The unflappable Liz Cheney: Why Trump Republicans have struggled to crush her MORE (R-Tenn.) said after the meeting.
Corker has maintained that he has yet to decide whether he will vote to block the main agreement when it comes before Congress next month. However, he appeared more willing than ever to try and kill it on Wednesday.
“You should put me in the very, very skeptical column,” he said.
“This is a valuable meeting,” added Sen. David Perdue (R-Ga.). “I’m so grateful the director general came over here, but his answer was not very reassuring.”
The larger agreement, negotiated with Iran by six world powers, would curb the country's nuclear program in exchange for lifting sanctions. But U.S. lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been critical of confidential agreements between the IAEA and Iran about how the agency will inspect for signs of nuclear activity.
In particular, they have worried about provisions covering Iran’s Parchin military facility and details of possible military dimensions of its past nuclear work.
Republicans, many of whom have denounced the deal, have been especially critical of their inability to see the actual terms of those agreements.
“We just can’t get answers,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said upon exiting the meeting. “It goes back to what is managed access, what restrictions are there and the details regarding Parchin, as it relates to that.”
“We need answers,” he added. “There’s still time for these answers, so let’s get these answers.”
One new concern, Corker mentioned, was that Iran had denied global powers the chance to speak with a handful of Iranian scientists.
“I was despondent to hear that Iran has turned that down, turned down access," he said.
Amano also refused to say whether the IAEA would be able to have physical access to portions of the Parchin site, Corker said.
“He couldn’t tell us,” he told reporters.
Some Democrats have joined in the fray, exposing a potentially serious vulnerability as the Obama administration looks to secure enough votes in each chamber to sustain any presidential veto of a resolution to kill the agreement.
“Every time I get more information it raises other questions,” Sen. Ben Cardin (Md.), the Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, told reporters after the meeting. “It doesn’t mean we have to see everything in the documents, but I think there are provisions in the document that relate to the takeaway of the review of the [possible military dimensions] that would be useful.”
“I was not given any assurance at all today that we could get these documents because of the nature of the agreements of the IAEA.”
The White House has insisted that even though lawmakers are not getting the text of the agreements, U.S. negotiators have been fully briefed on them and that information is being relayed to members of Congress.
“This is a very important building block of the safeguard regime,” Amano told reporters after the meeting.
“Imagine if a country provides me with confidential information or [an agreement] on the implementation and I do not honor the commitment. No country would share information with us.”
“Protecting the confidential information means to protect the safeguard regime,” he added. “That is why I cannot share the information.”
The Senate is about to leave Washington for a monthlong August recess that is sure to be marked by vigorous lobbying on the Iran deal. Critics of the agreement appear to have found an effective line of attack in their concerns about the Iran-IAEA deals.
Supporters, however, are largely dismissing it.
“I know it’s frustrating with members to not have certain confidential information, but we have to respect the way that the IAEA has done business over a long period of time,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
“I think a lot of this debate over getting access to this confidential agreement is a red herring created by people who were never going to support this agreement in the first place,” he added.
Austin Yack contributed.